March 15, 2023

While HR and Compliance leaders are responsible for different functions and operations, ensuring coordination around common issues and best practices can create a more effective compliance program, improve work culture, employee engagement and business performance. The common ground is the human factor.  

In this Q&A, Maggie Smith, Traliant Senior Vice President of Human Resources, and Maria D’Avanzo, Traliant Chief Evangelist Officer, lawyer and former Chief Ethics and Compliance Officer, discuss the intersection of HR and legal/compliance and the benefits of collaboration. 

Q1. Over the last few years, what are some of the changes you have seen that make it important for HR and compliance to partner more closely? 
One of the biggest changes has been the shift to remote or hybrid work. The rules and behavior expectations didn’t change, but the circumstances and work environment did. For many HR leaders, this means taking a fresh look at workplace policies and coordinating with legal/compliance colleagues to ensure that the organization’s policies, procedures and practices are up to date and aligned. 
Besides navigating compliance in a remote work environment, another significant change is updates to the Department of Justice’s (DOJ) evaluation of corporate compliance programs. With DOJ’s renewed focus on corporate culture, training and communication, an effective compliance program needs to be integrated throughout the organization, starting with onboarding new employees.  

Q2. This leads to the topic of workplace misconduct. How do you see HR and Legal/Compliance working more closely in this key area? 
Investigating reports of misconduct is a good example. A best practice would be to create a uniform approach to investigations. This would include implementing a policy, protocols and procedures that cover the different aspects of an investigation, and various factors to consider, such as how to communicate with whistleblowers, and witnesses and deciding who should lead the investigation. 
Yes, depending on the complaint and circumstances, an investigation may involve a multidisciplinary team – HR, in-house or outside counsel – so you need to have the right structure and policies in place. It is also important to train managers on how to respond to employee complaints – what to do and not do – to avoid costly mistakes and violations.  

Q3. Training is another area that spans HR and Compliance. How can practitioners make the process of choosing a training partner more efficient and effective? 
Choosing the right compliance training partner is a decision that impacts the entire organization, so you want to get different stakeholders involved. One approach is to create a small group to meet with potential training vendors and demo the relevant courses. Besides HR and Compliance, you may want to include information security and procurement, as they are well-versed in choosing vendors.  
Input from managers is valuable, too, since they are on the frontlines with employees. Other factors that matter to stakeholders across the organization: is the training personalized and tailored to the organization; are courses available in different languages; is the training easy to use and administer; is real-time reporting available. Surveying employees after they complete courses is another useful source of feedback on the quality of the training and its effectiveness in motivating behavior change. 

Q4. This brings us to the human factor. How can HR and Compliance work together to promote a speak-up culture?  

It starts with the CEO and senior leadership setting the example for a work environment of trust, transparency and ethical conduct. Promoting a speak-up culture may sound simple, but it takes teamwork and actions to put the right pieces together. This includes providing different channels (including an anonymous one) for employees to raise concerns and report wrongdoing, and then promptly following up so employees know the organization takes their concerns seriously. Scheduling regular meetings between HR and Compliance is an opportunity to share insights, communications and best practices for developing a speak-up culture and tracking progress. 
I’d also highlight the need to create an effective code of conduct, which sets the tone for the values and principles of a speak-up culture. HR and Compliance practitioners know from experience the reputational and financial harm that can result when a toxic work culture is not addressed and stopped. 

Employees need to feel that it is safe to speak up and will not be retaliated against. They also need to believe that leaders will hold themselves accountable, no matter the level or seniority.  
Traliant Insights 
While their roles are different, HR and Legal/Compliance leaders are strategic allies in creating a speak-up culture that drives ethical conduct and accountability across the organization. This includes aligning policies, procedures, training and best practices to minimize risks, prevent misconduct, and comply with regulations, enabling companies and employees to thrive in today’s complex work environment. 



Carole Walters